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Pakistan floods: Caring for older people's well being and self-worth

24 Jan 2011

HelpAge supports a clinic for people affected by the Pakistan floodsI am in Nowshera district, visiting older people affected by the Pakistan floods that swept through the country six months ago.

This weekend I visited a rural health centre.

The centre was established last October to provide health services to the 20,000 internally displaced people living in the nearby tented villages.

These people are a mixture of local people from six villages whose home were washed away by the Pakistan floods and Afghan refugees whose previous tents and homes were destroyed.

All are treated equally at the health centre which is supported by HelpAge International, Merlin and UNICEF.

The centre is always busy - every day 300 patients are treated. This is no wonder says the base in-charge, Dr Ashfaq Ahmed.

Despite distributions of winter kits, the tents do not protect against the winter months and respiratory infections have been common, especially among the very young and very old. In fact acute respiratory infections are 50% higher than usual for this time of year.

People traumatised by Pakistan floods

The centre manager is sure that people still feel traumatised by the floods. Mentally, they haven't settled, he says. But it is hard to work with people on this level. They are not used to talking about their feelings.

HelpAge's health promoters who work alongside Merlin's mobile clinic teams try to talk to older people about these issues.

But, "they don't want empathy, they want material things!" says Sanaullah one HelpAge health promoter. If they have those things, if they have a house, they will feel better.

Cash grants stop older people feeling like a burden

Older people feel very vulnerable right now, they are not, for example included in decision-making in the family. They feel they are a burden on their families. Some families do feel this way because of the pressure they are under.

One of the reasons that HelpAge's cash grant has been a huge success is that the older person feels they have some worth in their family. With the money they can contribute to the family's needs.

Likewise, the distribution of wheelchairs has given a freedom that many older people have not had in years.

One man hadn't left his house in years, now he can move around his neighbourhood. A simple intervention can change lives quite dramatically.

Your comments


well a "health promoter" can easily say that coz he or she is not a mental health specialist neither are they intensively trained on counseling, therapy or psychological first aid. so the point that they dont need empathy is absolutely wrong, every body around the globe who is affected by certain calamity needs to be listen in a proper way. yes that right that they have other needs as well but thats where comes the role and need of a proper and comprehensive psychosocial interventions. but anyway you guys are at least trying to do something, if not solid and accurate but still reporting and publishing well, what we call here in Pakistan a good "lush-pash", so good luck

Rosaleen Cunningham

Dear Bilal - Thanks for your message! I suppose "health promoter" does sound like a very general description and their work is very all-encompassing. They have been trained in basic geriatric psycho-social care, and how to identify severe trauma but they do not diagnose. They work in tandem with the medical and primary health care services and all severe cases are referred to the psychologist working with our - and Merlin's- teams - and this is where they get the comprehensive intervention you mention. For the less severe cases our health promoters spend time with the older person and their family talking about coping mechanisms and ways to reduce anxiety. We've also done this work with older people in other emergencies. For example in the features section in the Newsroom of our website, we have an article about how we've been treating older people in Haiti for trauma after the January 2010 earthquake. Please feel free to take a look. I didn't mean to imply that older people don't want empathy but that they don't JUST need empathy - they need the material things that symbolise a return to normal life. Anyway, keen to know what "lush-pash means" !?? Regards Rosaleen


This is a really iiertestnng post, as a relative young man of 38 who has over the last few years lost the last of my Grand parents, I depise the lack of respect and in some cases care given to older people. These people have not only gathered great knowledge over their years that could be of huge benefit to their communities but have also suffered hugely in order to make the world a better place for all future generations. In some cultures the elders' are treated with great respect and in awe, the rest of the world especially the West, should learn from this. Keep up the great work and thanks for sharing your experiences.

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Rosaleen Cunningham
Country: Ireland
Job title: Freelance Media and Communications

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.